[Kotaku] The Past, Present, And Future Of Diablo by Jason Schreier

Oct 26, 2017
3,801
#1
On November 2, 2018, Blizzard closed its annual BlizzCon keynote by announcing, to scattered applause, a Diablo game for phones. It was a baffling marketing decision that immediately set off controversy, as fans of Blizzard’s iconic action-role-playing game franchise loudly accused the company of neglecting its PC players.

Perhaps Blizzard’s marketing department had expected Diablo fans to be excited about Diablo Immortal, but the announcement was yet another strange move in a string of bizarre Diablo-related decisions over the past few years. After Diablo III’s disastrous launch on PC in 2012 and a road to redemption that culminated with 2014’s expansion, Reaper of Souls, fans had expected long-term support and perhaps a second expansion for the third Diablo. It had sold more than 30 million copies, after all.

But since 2014, updates to Diablo III have been light and sporadic, and four years later, Blizzard’s announcement of Diablo Immortal at a time when fans are hungry for any news of a Diablo IV has led to big questions about the future of the franchise.
What’s really going on with Diablo? What happened to Diablo III’s long-term plan? Is Diablo Immortal, developed in part outside of Blizzard by the Chinese company NetEase, a sign that Blizzard has lowered its standards or abandoned its core audience? Is there a Diablo IV in development, or has Blizzard given up on PC games in favor of phones?

To try to answer these questions, I’ve spoken to 11 current and former Blizzard employees, all of whom spoke anonymously because they were not authorized to speak to press. They’ve told me about a canceled second expansion for Diablo III, and about Diablo IV, which is indeed in development but was rebooted in 2016. They’ve talked about the series’ popularity in China, which is one of the main reasons for Diablo Immortal’s existence, and about how the specter of the canceled game Titan hangs over many of Blizzard’s decisions.
https://kotaku.com/the-past-present-and-future-of-diablo-1830593195
 
Oct 25, 2017
469
#2
The most interesting stuff in here for me wasn't really the Diablo stuff. It was the changing attitude at Blizzard towards being more profit focused and that the Activision influence might be becoming stronger than it has in the past. That's worrying.

Good article, Jason!
 
Oct 25, 2017
746
#4
Very good article!

Hearing that they want to return to dark, gory, satanic scenes is going to do amazing things. It’s what captivated some of us as kids. Just look at the hype for RE2, good gory graphics is going to do well.

I’m honestly surprised Activision just doesn’t dictate everything to Blizzard at this point
 
Oct 26, 2017
2,895
#5
In recent years, however, that’s changed. Blizzard’s digital store, Battle.net, now features Activision games like Destiny 2 and Call of Duty Black Ops 4. Bungie appeared on the BlizzCon 2018 stream to announce that Destiny 2 would be free temporarily. And there’s been a perception among Blizzard developers that the two companies are growing more and more intertwined.
Destiny being in the opening keynote was eye opening for me too. I'm glad Jason reported on it. Activision's claws are sinking deeper into Blizzard no doubt.
 
Oct 25, 2017
1,650
#6
Diablo 4: now with microtransactions! Pay $1 to spawn a rare monster guaranteed to drop a legendary item that your class can use!

This is my nightmare.
 
OP
OP
dex3108
Oct 26, 2017
3,801
#8
This is another thing that worries me not only related to Blizzard but in general.

Three Blizzard sources told me that the original plan for Diablo Immortal had been to release it only in China for a few months or maybe a year, in large part to test it out among Chinese fans before releasing it in the west. “The quality bar in the Chinese market, especially for framerate, is extremely low,” said one. “You can release something that’d be considered alpha footage here and it’d be a finished game there.” Later, those sources said, Blizzard decided to take more time to polish the game and prepare it for a simultaneous global announcement and release.
 
Oct 26, 2017
767
#10
Anyone who is still dumb enough to defend the microtransaction greed AAA publishers have after reading this article can get out of gaming. Blizzard and Activision rake in HUGE profits (particularly from microtransactions in Activision's case) and as the article makes clear they wanted cutting costs to be a high priority.

Microtransactions clearly aren't helping Blizzard, and it looks like Activision is trying to squeeze even more profit out of Blizzard's franchises. None of that bodes well for the future.
 
Nov 28, 2017
682
#11
Having played D3 since launch to recent season, I can actually follow the events of this article lol, shit fits with what has been going on with D3 as a player.

D3 was a disaster for Vanilla due to many reasons, big ones are RMAH and balance of loot/inferno difficulty. All of that was then moved to a new team to do band-daid fixes and one of that was announced as Loot 2.0 following the removal of RMAH and they launched RoS to refresh the game but it was too late, the team is then killed off right after launch before time is given for reaction and then a skeleton crew post RoS.

The fact that executives already believe D3 was a fuck up before RoS, I can see why D4 is kind of eh and why a Mobile version fit this game to them, simply because it was the easiest way to get money out of it. Shitty overall for the Diablo franchise in current Blizzard.
 
Oct 27, 2017
2,268
#14
I like the sound of Fenris, but possible over the shoulder camera?.....


...........................................................................wha
 
Oct 27, 2017
4,262
#15
Anyone who is still dumb enough to defend the microtransaction greed AAA publishers have after reading this article can get out of gaming. Blizzard and Activision rake in HUGE profits (particularly from microtransactions in Activision's case) and as the article makes clear they wanted cutting costs to be a high priority.

Microtransactions clearly aren't helping Blizzard, and it looks like Activision is trying to squeeze even more profit out of Blizzard's franchises. None of that bodes well for the future.
We’ve lost the war already man.
 
Oct 25, 2017
2,595
#18
Another pillar of Fenris is to make Diablo more social, taking inspiration from Destiny to add what one current Blizzard developer called “light MMO elements,” further drawing on Blizzard’s past massively multiplayer online success. Previous Diablo games have featured hub cities full of computer-controlled quest-givers and vendors—imagine if, while exploring those hubs, you could meet and group up with other players? And then what if you could go off and take on instanced dungeons with them, sort of like Destiny’s strikes or World of Warcraft’s instances?
Sounds a lot like Guild Wars 1. What was old, is new again?

One lingering question is how Blizzard will monetize Fenris. Blizzard’s other big games, like Overwatch and Hearthstone, include ongoing revenue streams thanks to cosmetic microtransactions and card packs. With Diablo, Blizzard has not yet found a way to deliver that same sort of cash generator. (“The company’s always struggled as to how to have some sort of long-tail monetization for Diablo III,” acknowledged one former employee.) From what we’ve heard, those decisions are still up in the air on Fenris, and may not be clear for a long time.
This is why some of us are so against the current trending models of monetization in gaming. Diablo III sold 30m copies. That is a runaway success. Why the fuck do you need a long-tail monetization on a wildly-popular and successful game? Diablo the franchise is, ultimately, about randomization and near-endless replayability. Any tampering with that formula to generate shareholder value is, outside of pure cosmetic options, doomed to fail.

Blizzard is losing me as a fan. Their focus and decisions over the past few years have been disappointing. Diablo is my favorite Blizzard series. Nothing I've seen of Immortal or in the content of this article regarding Diablo IV really makes me confident that Blizzard can deliver a game that I would be happy with.
 
Oct 27, 2017
540
#21
I just wish we moved on from this capitalistic mantra "GROWTH GROWTH GROWTH". The new shift in Blizzard to cut costs is a big fat red flag. Blizzard will lose all talent and creativity in the long term.

As someone deeply involved in Blizzard games, I am deeply worried about the future and AAA gaming in general.
 
Dec 28, 2017
3,828
#22
The most interesting stuff in here for me wasn't really the Diablo stuff. It was the changing attitude at Blizzard towards being more profit focused and that the Activision influence might be becoming stronger than it has in the past. That's worrying.

Good article, Jason!
Worrying but not surprising
I was telling everyone we were getting a Diablo mobile game at Blizzcon for months pretty much only cause of the direction where the company was headed
I was surprised that was all they had to show though
 
Oct 25, 2017
1,347
Germany
#24
That last part of the article is actually really worrying.
Yeah, but it's exactly what I thought since the announcement that Morhaime would leave. Activision is trying to take control over Blizzard and will fuck up this great company.
Spend less, release more and make us more money. I can't stand this shit anymore. I mean why? Blizzard never had money issues, constant income due to WOW and now
thanks to OW and Hearthstone. They are beloved and known for a few but quality gems, and that what makes them so special.
 
Oct 25, 2017
2,882
#25
The part about canning Expac 2 right after RoS came out is fucking what

Everyone thought the weird mini updates were salvaged fragments of Expac 2 after it failed to come together or something, but it actually never existed in a real state at all.



It's doubly ironic, because I remember that Destiny 1 article that Schreier also wrote about how... Activision had the Diablo team address Bungie about how to salvage a botched loot game launch, with Diablo 3 as the example.
 
Oct 25, 2017
2,411
#26
The highlights to me are:

Warcraft Go is in development
They cancelled a second Diablo 3 expansion because they wanted to clean themselves entirely of it and move on to Diablo 4
Diablo 4 has gone through two major iterations
Their new CFO is from Activision and is focusing on cutting costs and maximizing profitability

Yeah...this doesn't sound good.

The part about canning Expac 2 right after RoS came out is fucking what

Everyone thought the weird mini updates were salvaged fragments of Expac 2 after it failed to come together or something, but it actually never existed in a real state at all.



It's doubly ironic, because I remember that Destiny 1 article that Schreier also wrote about how... Activision had the Diablo team address Bungie about how to salvage a botched loot game launch, with Diablo 3 as the example.
Slight correction, they cancelled Expansion 2 before RoS even released.
 
Oct 26, 2017
1,656
#27
“You would’ve thought Blizzard was going under and we had no money,” said a former Blizzard staffer, who told me they left the company this year in part because of Activision’s influence. “The way every little thing was being scrutinized from a spend perspective. That’s obviously not the case. But this was the very first time I ever heard, ‘We need to show growth.’ That was just so incredibly disheartening for me.”
“We are being told to spend less at every corner because we have no new IP,” said one former developer. “Because Overwatch set this bar of how much we could earn in a single year, there’s a ton of pressure from Activision to get shit moving. They want something to show shareholders.” (During an earnings call after Overwatch launched, Activision said it had brought in over a billion dollars in revenue.)
These days, there’s trepidation surrounding Blizzard, both externally and internally. Strange decisions surrounding the Diablo franchise have exacerbated that, and in fact, some who work or have worked at Blizzard believe that canceling Diablo III’s second expansion was one of the company’s biggest mistakes in recent years. Recalled one Blizzard veteran: “I remember a lot of us looking at each other and saying, ‘Man, if we had just done that second expansion instead of losing half the team as a result of the cancellation, and then all of the personnel changes, management changes, then this walk down the road of Hades… If we hadn’t done any of that and had just focused on doing a solid third act for Diablo, it’d be out by now.’”
Welp.
 
Oct 25, 2017
10,788
#29
“We are being told to spend less at every corner because we have no new IP,” said one former developer. “Because Overwatch set this bar of how much we could earn in a single year, there’s a ton of pressure from Activision to get shit moving. They want something to show shareholders.” (During an earnings call after Overwatch launched, Activision said it had brought in over a billion dollars in revenue.)
It was a massive shake-up for Blizzard, and it came during a time when there were already questions about Activision’s influences. Morhaime was widely beloved at the company. One former Blizzard developer described him as the “anti-CEO.”

”He doesn’t care about profitability,” that person said. “He just wants employees to be happy, and he just wants to make good games and keep the community happy.”

Suddenly, there were whispers in hallways, concerns about future cost-cutting initiatives and furtive exchanges about what plans Activision CEO Bobby Kotick might have in mind for Blizzard. “There’s a perception within Blizzard that finance is making more calls than they ever did in the past,” said one person who left Blizzard recently. “You never heard that three or four years ago.”
Making a good game and caring about the community will often bring you profitability.

But everyone, it's honestly just about surviving. There isn't any insidious level of fuckery going on in this industry where CEOs and shareholders have a snake-like bite over every part of the development and just want to GAAS/monetize the fuck out of everything to drain their audience dry.

Everything needs to make FIFA UT team or Overwatch money, or it's not worth it. That's fucking healthy.

And you wonder why people who have a passion for games and the survivability of this industry call things out and get annoyed by others who put on the blinders and can't stand any sort of corporate criticism being levied at these publishers.

Give them an inch and they take a mile and they have armies of followers lined up to defend everything they do and call anyone being critical entitled and/or some sort of piece of shit.
 
#33
Makes sense the second expansion was canceled, especially since RoS didn't sell that well. It's a shame because RoS was what D3 should have been in the first place. The "new" Diablo 4 sounds promising.

Don't get the doom and gloom at the end. When you're shelving projects that's money down the drain. "Don't spend money where you don't need to." Like that isn't Activision influence.. that's just responsible financial planning lol.
 
Oct 25, 2017
5,660
#36
This is another thing that worries me not only related to Blizzard but in general.
Your intuition is correct that there are a ton of big deal Western devs making core mobile games to appeal to places like China and Korea along with the burgeoning audience for things like Fortnite on mobile in the West.
 
Oct 27, 2017
2,268
#37
To play devil's advocate, what's wrong with trying to bolster staff, cut unnecessary costs, and get more games out? Sure you could argue that quality may go out the window, or that we see Blizzard completely move to mobile, but at the same time, the gap from Diablo 2 LOD and Diablo 3 was real, and further to that, Diablo 3 was horrible at launch. Does it not make sense for someone to come in and say "there's been too much dicking around and fucking up, we need to hunker down and get games out"?

Don't get me wrong, I understand the fears of those in this thread, and dat corporate influence etc. - but...as beloved as Blizzard's games are, a lot of the "negative" stuff in that article isn't wrong, per se. Overwatch was sort of an exception to the rule in terms of their successes in the past...however long. That and Hearthstone, I suppose.

I don't know. Sometimes friction produces a diamond, no? Maybe if developers are a little more pressured to be a little more "focused" in the development of current IPs and new IPs, we'll see more of them and there'll be less of a feeling of being "unfocused" if that makes sense (which is what Diablo 3 felt like to me).

Of course the cancelled D3 expansion is horrible as hell though :(
 
Oct 27, 2017
2,745
#38
Damn Hades is the Starcraft Ghosts of Diablo now. One day we will see this prototypes released to the public in some capacity....
 
Dec 27, 2017
652
#39
Wow what an article and confirms so much that many of us have been worried about.
Basically. That cancelled D3 2nd expansion is crushing. That would have been amazing. Instead they spent years making a Souls knock off and lost much of the talent that made Reaper so good.

Overwatch is one of the game's that really helped mainstream lootboxes though, so limited sympathy for them on that front.
 
Oct 25, 2017
3,643
#40
I'm glad my only time investment into Blizzard games was Diablo 3 due to Blizzard's track record at the time, and the hype. What a time to get in on Blizzard games, totally soured me on them. I feel bad for gamers that loved the older Diablo games, and I hope they find another game for their fix until D4 is released, and I hope it's good.

I actually enjoyed playing Path of Exile and Marvel Heroes more than D3, and then I found out about a ex D2 dev being the CEO of the Marvel Heroes team. Man I miss that game, if only David didn't leave, or was pushed out. The new guy messed things up.
 
Oct 25, 2017
2,882
#41
Slight correction, they cancelled Expansion 2 before RoS even released.
That's... even weirder.





But yeah, here's the story from Schreier's 2015 Destiny article:

In December of 2014, Diablo III director Josh Mosqueira and a few other members of his team at Blizzard came to Bungie for a talk, according to two people who were there. The parallels were uncanny; Diablo III had launched to commercial success in 2012 but saw a great deal of criticism from fans thanks to randomized loot, frustrating online DRM, and a lack of endgame content. Both games shared a publisher, Activision, that thought Destiny could redeem itself in fans’ eyes the way Diablo III eventually had after its release.

“They basically came in and said, ‘Look, here’s our story of developing Diablo III and then bringing in [the expansion] Reaper of Souls,’” said one person who was at the Blizzard talk.

Meanwhile, they have no faith in continuing to fix Diablo III itself.
 
Oct 25, 2017
10,788
#43
To play devil's advocate, what's wrong with trying to bolster staff, cut unnecessary costs, and get more games out? Sure you could argue that quality may go out the window, or that we see Blizzard completely move to mobile, but at the same time, the gap from Diablo 2 LOD and Diablo 3 was real, and further to that, Diablo 3 was horrible at launch. Does it not make sense for someone to come in and say "there's been too much dicking around and fucking up, we need to hunker down and get games out"?

Don't get me wrong, I understand the fears of those in this thread, and dat corporate influence etc. - but...as beloved as Blizzard's games are, a lot of the "negative" stuff in that article isn't wrong, per se. Overwatch was sort of an exception to the rule in terms of their successes in the past...however long. That and Hearthstone, I suppose.

I don't know. Sometimes friction produces a diamond, no? Maybe if developers are a little more pressured to be a little more "focused" in the development of current IPs and new IPs, we'll see more of them and there'll less of a feeling of being "unfocused" if that makes sense (which is what Diablo 3 felt like to me).
A lot of the gameplay issues with Diablo 3 at launch was because it was completely made and tuned for the Real Money Auction House.

That's like the height of the shareholders/CEO completely railroading development and causing the mess themselves. You can make good money with an IP like Diablo if you just fucking release the game your core audience somewhat expects. Let people bicker over colour palletes and some of the subjective parts of the game, but get the core gameplay and loot mechanics sound.

Not a pay to win simulator with drop rates and gameplay completely tuned around pushing people to spend $250~500 on your AH for top-tier loot.
 
Oct 26, 2017
953
#44
“There are lots of mobile game players at Blizzard,” said a current developer. “There are lots of people actually excited about mobile games. The reaction inside the company to Immortal is very different than the reaction outside the company. Part of the thinking on a lot of these is, people want to work on smaller projects. Smaller projects in mobile tend to make sense.”

For example, developers told me, quite a few people at Blizzard play Pokémon Go, the massively popular mobile game that lets you use your phone’s camera to catch wild creatures. As one developer explained, the iconic orc statue in the center of Blizzard’s campus is a Pokéstop, and staff wage war over who gets to control the landmark on a daily basis.
:thinking:

explains a lot actually.
 
Oct 25, 2017
7,215
#45
The most interesting stuff in here for me wasn't really the Diablo stuff. It was the changing attitude at Blizzard towards being more profit focused and that the Activision influence might be becoming stronger than it has in the past. That's worrying.
Man...who could have seen that happening when the companies merged together? But no people were just being paranoid, slippery slope arguments etc etc.
 
Oct 28, 2017
2,066
#46
At least by so clearly indicating that there is a "dark" D4 in development it will be more difficult for jittery execs to cancel it. For crying out loud they had another D3 expansion and they just canned it. Craziness.
 
Oct 25, 2017
3,643
#49
We’ve lost the war already man.
There's hope in indie games.

I'm getting tired of the AAA games actually. One of my favorites now is Warframe, unfortunately I have little reason to spend money in the game for support. I could buy the skins that are community made which cannot be bought with platinum though. Plat is so easy to get by trading, maybe by providing players with loot I'm doing my part. They see my wares and maybe they buy plat to trade with me. Yeah, that's it.
 
Oct 27, 2017
616
#50
During their earnings call, they said King Mobile's expertise has been spread throughout the company. That's everything I need to know about the future of Diablo and Blizzard